Album Review. Yes reunite with Trevor Horn: Fly from Here

Yes reunite with Trevor Horn for their latest album 'Fly From Here'

Critics of Yes insist their music is just one idea spun out over 25+ minutes. What they’re missing is that’s exactly what fans of the much maligned Progressive Rock genre, which Yes largely defined, like about them. Their music is like a mantra. It sinks in on a far more visceral level than mere catchiness or sing-along-ability of a three and half minute pop song.

When the British pop-charts were full of cheap to produce, long forgotten Punk and Disco, Yes where selling out 70,000 seat stadiums to millions around the world. If anything, in those days, being largely ignored by mainstream radio was almost seen as a stamp of approval for the band who unashamedly blended delicate acoustic numbers about fantasy and transcendence, with stage lighting and theatrical productions to rival any broadway show.

Yes songs wake you up at three in morning with ideas you’ve never had before. Their music is a conduit into other ways of thinking. It’s about more than just the facade under which the music is made flesh; the fingers on the fret-wire. Their structures are like fractals—windows into the Roger Dean album-art which have adorned their L.P.’s since the early 1970’s. Shapes within shapes, each similar to the last and yet re-imagined each successive playback, in the mind of the listener. Moreover their sound is based up on a trust that the listener will “get it”, in a way which renders superfluous any pretensions of being “radio-friendly”.

So, when I heard the news that Chris Squire, Alan White and Steve Howe were uniting with Geoff Downes and Trevor Horn to record a new album my anticipation was high.

Trevor Horn needs no introduction. His production mastery and attention to detail have touched upon every musical genre under the sun. He first worked with Yes in 1980, as well as briefly replacing the erstwhile Jon Anderson on vocals for a short world tour. This time around he originally agreed to “help out”, but found himself kidnapped by the group in New York, unable to leave until he’d agreed to produced the entire album—an offer, he says, he couldn’t refuse.

Geoff Downes was Horn’s coconspirator in The Buggles. ‘Age of Plastic’, which gave the duo their 1979 hit single ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ stands to this day as a masterclass in music production and song-craft. He is also a long-time band-member with Steve Howe in that bastion of Americanised Prog-Rock, Asia.

Squire, Howe and White have persevered with changes to the Yes line-up for decades. This incarnation of the band sees former ‘Close to the Edge’ frontman Benoit David replacing Jon Anderson on vocals. With an eerily familiar Anderson-like tone to his voice, honed no-doubt in his years as frontman to the aforementioned Yes tribute band, David’s unique compliment to Squire’s trade-mark backing vocals leaves the diehard fan in no-doubt as to his Prog-Rock credentials. It’s also a rather happy accident that where his vocal style differs from Anderson, it’s in its leanings towards Horn’s vocal sound on tracks like ‘I am a Camera’ from the second Buggles album ‘Adventures in Modern Recording’, which was later rearranged as a Yes song for the ‘Drama’ album and retitled ‘Into the Lens’.

‘Fly From Here’ is built around the central theme of the title track, orientally penned 30 years ago by Horn and Downes and pitched to Squire when they were angling for the job of producing what became the group’s first album without Anderson, ‘Drama’. The main signature is reprised harmonically throughout the album, breaking only for a charming acoustic guitar interlude from Howe, ‘Solitaire’.

Fans of the group’s ‘90125’, ‘Big Generator’, ‘Talk’ & ‘Union’ recordings won’t be disappointed with the high-fidelity, no expense spared sheen, synonymous with Horn’s production style throughout. And for many this alone would be enough to warrant repeated playing. Indeed some might see this as more of a third Buggles album than it is a strictly new Yes album. For some Yes just isn’t Yes without Anderson.

But returning to the studio again after all-but vowing “it’s all over” and essentially breaking the band up, over 20 years ago (save for a 2001 collaboration with an orchestra and the album ‘Magnification’), ‘Fly From Here’ should go more than half way to convincing even dyed in the wool Anderson fans that Squire et al still have something they want to say worth listening to, despite that also missing from the line-up is keyboardist Rick Wakeman, who opted instead to record a collaboration with Jon Anderson, producing the duo’s first project together outside of Yes, ‘The Living Tree’.

But despite missing the magic Anderson and Wakeman breathed into the Yes sound, Downes keyboard stylings and Howe’s layered guitars are as luscious as ever and the overall character of the album is in keeping with the post 1983 sound of the group, which many actually prefer to the band’s earlier, more fragmented works (‘Close to the Edge’ and ‘Fragile’ notwithstanding).

Overall ‘Fly From Here’ lacks a ‘Gates of Delirium’ or ‘Going for the One’—or some killer interlude that in the old days would have had the grooves of the vinyl worn away from repeated skipping back to play over and over again. But this is a post-Ozric Tentacles genre, which even the sandals and socks, 40 to 60 year olds who predominate the target audience, whose nostalgic yearnings for the days when music was about Bakelite headphones with a curly lead, elaborate artwork and gatefold sleeve designs, would have to admit Yes, as a musical force at least, have been largely surpassed.

But the moments of clarity which do leap out are largely at the hand of messieurs Horn and David—and for their appointment alone one has to look to the insight and passion for brand Yes, for which Squire and Howe still fly the standard.

Buy it on iTunes.

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8 comments on “Album Review. Yes reunite with Trevor Horn: Fly from Here

  1. Great, great, great review! Have nothing more to say than ‘thanks for the review!’. Agree 100%. Repeated listening indeed! — You couldn’t be more right: “Yes songs wake you up at three in morning with ideas you’ve never had before. Their music is a conduit into other ways of thinking. It’s about more than just the facade under which the music is made flesh” !

  2. i have listened to the entire album. i have seen alot of reviews. i never expect OLD ANDERSON type of yes, not relayer, tales, fragile or anything but GREAT SOUND, GREAT HARMONIES, TREMENDOUS MUSICIANSHIP. these guys are old, i am 49. i wish i could produce such tremendous arrangements as they have done on this new album FLY FROM HERE.. a few songs can have serious radio time, the title track (short version we can fly) and the man you always wanted me to be can be bigtime hits on the charts. this album is tremendous, i am estatic that i am alive to hear this, and that most of the original band members along with the new ones blend so well.. YES IS BACK.. YES, THIS YES! so what, what’s wrong with loving THIS YES.. THEY ARE BACK AND BETTER THAN EVER.. WE WILL FLY!

  3. I know Ricky Lewis and trust what he has to say. He is a phenomenal singer in his own right, he just doesn’t want to brag. And he plays a killer guitar. Fans, please follow Ricky Lewis. He knows the truth!

  4. It is rather telling that this review has only received a handful of replys. The band isn’t getting much attention and on their recent tour with Styx even die-hard fans were dissing the band as Tommy Shaw and the Styx band blew them away (imagine that, Styx out performing and out playing Yes!)
    Oh, this was a great review…one that Geoff Downes undoubtedly would agree with, that is if he didn’t dictate it word for word.Sounds kind of like his enormous ego. No, sorry about that. I’m still pissed at the way Oliver Wakeman was treated. He is a fine keyboardist with lots of promise who has a lot more finesse than Downes power chord driven playing. If it hadn’t been for Trevor’s production, Oliver would still be in the band adding what I thought was a more traditional “yes” sound. Sure, go buy the cd (the guys need the money) but don’t expect it to be nearly as good as what you remember, because it isn’t.

  5. Well, I don’t know where you got the idea that a band who can afford to hire Trevor Horn and who wrote Owner of a Lonely Heart, Close to the Edge and Relayer “need the money” and I honestly don’t know anything about the Oliver Wakemen aspect to this, but I think this has to be one of my favourite albums. I know it’s popular heresy among Yes die-hards, that anything which doesn’t involve Anderson isn’t really Yes, but Drama was a big favourite of mine too.

    I did mention in the original article that this was never going to be up there with the albums they produced when the music business was run by people who love music made by musicians, as opposed to loops made by DJs, but there are some glistening moments of Chris Squire magic on here that I don’t think anyone less than Horn could have gotten out of him. I’m also please to see Howe is still capable of reminding the younger generation that he was doing lines Battles would be envious of 30 years before they were born.

    It saddens me that, as with all things people have a strong emotional connection to, whenever someone comes along and tries to sprinkle a little more fairy dust on their already much admired back-catalogue, it’s invariably the fans of that very music who save the already disinterested journalists of the modern music press, the job of slagging off something they don’t really want to understand. This is made especially frustrating when one has to presume the reason why the guys decided to make this album in the first place, would be in the hope it might stand alone; separate from the preconceptions and attachments so many have to their previous masterpieces.

    A few years ago I went to see Robert Fripp performing on the G3 tour with Satriani and Vai. 99 out of 100 of the fans were waiting to see Joe widdle in A pentatonic and Steve tap in lydian on gauge 7 strings that don’t stay in tune. They’d paid their money and by God they were going to get exactly the same performance they’d already seen on the DVD released a month earlier, with someone else in Fripp’s place, come hell or high water. So when the master himself hoved into view at the side of the stage and begun causing angels and demons to leap from their graves and dance around the Newcastle City Hall, most of those who’d never heard of King Crimson presumed some mad professor had wandered on the stage and started fucking about with Steve Vai’s Eventide. They yelled abuse for a while; only serving as they did to enhance the performance beyond what that 1% of us in the audience who know how to actually listen to music anymore thought possible. Towards the end of the concert and the obligatory, Live Aid style “jam”, Fripp dashed up and down the fretboard like a man possessed, as the sound of shattering chins emanated from those parts of the auditorium where his detractors once stood.

    In time, this Yes album will be seen as the masterwork of music production it really is—perhaps not by those who can’t accept it isn’t 1973 anymore, but certainly by those of us who appreciate the sound of musicians who are who they are, precisely because they never stopped reaching for something more than they already are.

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